I’m having an extremely difficult time starting this article, whatever it is. Probably because, after a week, I’m trying to recreate certain emotions or remember pertinent instances. Or maybe, after writing ad nauseum on a sitcom blog series, I’m a little drained on words. At any rate, here goes something, nothing, anything.
I decided to drive up to Austin last week to attend the fiftieth installment of “Eeyore’s Birthday Party.” In the almost ten years I lived there, I attended most years. There were always plenty of events year round and I attended most at one time or another, the list too extensive to provide. But I remember certain years counting down the days or sweating out the weather report as to the status of the outdoor festival at Pease Park.
There are some in Austin (and surrounding areas) that have never heard of Eeyore’s. You won’t find it advertised even in the Chronicle. No publicity. The money raised goes to many charitable causes. There is no entrance fee but the money comes from beer and food sales. The only logos you see there are for locally-made craft beers. No phone companies, no time shares, no Justin Timberlake or Paul McCartney promos. Just drum circles and porta-potties. Yes, there are porta-potties. They complement the craft beer selection nicely.
Speaking of craft beers, it usually only takes a couple before the aforementioned drum circles do their magic, beating you into the submission to the gods of insight. This is a family-friendly event what with the egg tossing contests and the ample playground activities. Towards the back of the festivities, in the woods one may find more of a “laid-back” atmosphere if you will. There is live music, usually blues-rock.
In order to make the statement, I struggled to find anyone texting or talking on their phones. I can make the statement: the only thing people were doing with their instruments were taking pictures.
In that vein, there is something primitive about Eeyore’s. I admire the old hippies that are there. You see them in the earlier hours. They may be drunk or stoned by that time, or maybe they are just living in a state of happiness. At 2:00 I was probably in the median of the age range. (I turn fifty the same year as Eeyore.) I saw one gentleman wearing a T-shirt stating that he was at Eeyore’s in 1964 (the first year). He wasn’t carrying a cup or a camera. He was just walking, looking. He looked like he may have been a CEO of an advertising firm, or a grandfather, or both. He may have been revisiting a different time. Or maybe he has been going to Eeyore’s every year since and he keeps it to himself. It doesn’t matter. But many of these attendees, older than myself…if not, they only looked it which wouldn’t necessarily surprise me….were in a state of sheer bliss. That may or may not have been aided and abetted by plants, chemicals or liquids. It may or may not just be their natural state. Or both. But I watch these “old hippies” and I admire them.
I always have. My politics have always been all over the map. I used to be quite conservative. Living in Austin, I became more open-minded and less tolerant of officious oppression, compartmentalized judgments and bland corporate-driven groupthink. And some of these free spirits I see dancing in front of me could easily be members of any political party or have no political allegiance whatsoever. (It’s safe to say, I bet none of them supported Jr. even if they were Republicans). So I relate to idea that no one is wearing their politics (or lack thereof) on their sleeveless arms. At this event, it doesn’t matter. Just as there are no corporate logos, there are no ideologies of any kind on display. And, sadly, that is almost as refreshing as the lack of Sprint-Verizon banners.
As I watched the band play, made up of a bunch of old guys who have been around the block backing up a female vocalist much younger (that seemed to be a trend), I noticed larger groups forming, the volume of spectators directly correlated to the power of the music and the enthusiasm of the dancers. There was the old fellow that may have been trying to delve into the spirit of the recently departed local celebrity/transvestite Leslie. Although his dancing partners and swagger betrayed his feminine attire, this man, possibly a retired oil executive on an ecstasy binge, was having the time of his life. And there was the other older fella, the one who never let the smile leave his face, as he happily danced with whomever offered themselves up to partake in his joyous prancing. I was noticing the children happily swirling side by side with these bohemian dinosaurs. And I noticed that their respective joy and innocence and hope are one and the same. What’s in the middle, I thought? Was it the fortyish year old inebriated woman who decided to “take it all off”, following the orders of the lyrics in the current song and proudly thumb her nose at propriety, “making her statement” as she pulled the kids in with her until the security officers told her to put her clothes back on? Was the middle the onlookers who came up to her while she ranted against the powers that be and patted her on the back for her bravery and chutzpah? Was it the gawking and amused onlookers wishing they had a video camera for the bargain basement TMZ set? Was it those two security guys who realized they had to do this in an incredibly permissive environment knowing they would be looked upon as fascists? Was it me for being old enough now to realize that freedom and enlightenment entails more than just proving how naked you can be? I know this: that the old hippies and the children just kept on dancing through the whole thing.
I think the “taking it all off” is instructive here. I have always been in awe of those who had no fear to express themselves, to be themselves. Growing up, I had family friends who were bonafide hippies and I remember hanging with them, the smell of the patchouli, the constant guitar sessions, that feeling of community, a collective ennui. It was strange and alien. My parents were older, the Depression generation. At home, it was a different world. I witnessed these things in the late sixties and early seventies, when it could have had meaning or not but it was real. Vietnam, riots, Watergate, inflation…this was In the News. And after surviving the eighties and most of the nineties as a less-hip Alex Keaton (still dabbling in such esoteric exercises as theater) I had experiences with people and places that drew me back into that lifestyle which I was too young to appreciate at the time.
So I chucked my chamber-of-commerce-ish lifestyle and decided to join the anti-establishment in Austin via the filmmaking community. Well, by that time Austin was changing and the old-timers were starting to bemoan the onslaught of techies and those from other parts. “Keep Austin Weird” became a slogan on a coffee mug. And living in 78704, I was in the middle of the transformation. So I got interested in Texas politics which was more cowboy than hippie. And the film community was diverse and open-minded but veering towards the formula trap and film festival politics and popularity contests. Ever so often I would find myself in an authentic situation where I would be butted up against the spirit of that “freedom” untainted by ego or pretension. But it never happened enough. “Eeyore’s” was one of those times each year when I could try to reach some sort of nirvana, a way to lessen the anxiety and neurosis and limitations that I allowed myself to wallow in as a result of my competing fears of success and failure, of the non-dead remnants of my judgments and preconceptions, of my fear of experimenting with the forbidden, of my confusion of religious faith with guilt-driven lack of abandon.
In years past, As I sweated in the drum circles, half-crocked, I was hoping to discover something about myself that I couldn’t locate at work, in film, at church or with my friends; thinking my salvation would lie in some meet-cute with a half-clothed waif while clutching a buffalo leg; expecting my self-actualization would finally occur before dusk would sweep away the unwashed masses of merriment. But there was something missing. Seriously missing. I would end up back where I started the next day just with a massive headache and the inspiration for some short film which I would never write.
But this past Saturday, in 2013, I didn’t think about those things. I thought about society. About where we are now. About all those old hippies and what they must be thinking. Or maybe they are not thinking at all. Are they rejoicing in the fact that this may be the only place left in Texas for such outright and unadorned glee? Could the veteran festivalgoer be pondering what happened to him between now and the Kennedy assassination? Could this be just another day in paradise for the ex-patriots of the established world? Could they see, as the college kids arrived around 4:30 with their clandestine, Tarantino-inflected activities and the hazy dazy halcyon belching into a leering twisted social-media infected cesspool, that the last few hours of the donkey’s day may similarly represent the descent into depravity and crudity and inhumanity that will represent the precursor of a new beginning, a new birth? Did they know that? I tried remembering a quote by Hunter S. Thompson that a friend of mine, one who lived through all the changes himself, who saw the hippies and the cowboys love each other at the Armadillo the first time, I thought of that quote he shared with me over a pint once:
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . .
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
But not even an hour after I stepped into that park, I felt that sense of something missing for me. And I realized that all my yearning and longing was of a time. As I ventured to Austin alone, almost upon the third month anniversary of my marriage, I realized that the only reason I was there was to share that fiftieth birthday with Eeyore. We had that in common. And I did that. And I found the missing piece. And I was whole. So what I was missing was what I had. At home. My soulmate. My love.
Eeyore and his friends can celebrate their next decade without me. I found what I was looking for. And the future looks bright.